In France during the sixteenth century the fortified castle broke down its walls and became a Chateau or country house, heralding the arrival of a whole new category of people those no longer noble, but were simply very rich. This in itself was a revolution.
By the eighteenth century the design of architecture, gardens, interiors, furniture, furnishings and accessories accommodated the preferences and lifestyles enjoyed by royalty, wealthy, private and the most influential families.
After 1751 all French Furniture was required to be marked unless it was made for the exclusive use of the Royal family. In the atmosphere of nobility and a continually burgeoning haute bourgeoisie (wealthy middle class) the Marchand Mercier, a merchant in luxury goods emerged.
Simon Phillippe Poirier from the late 1750’s together with his partner Dominque Daguerre virtually monopolised the trade in decorative arts with many rich and fashionable women as their clients.
In France the Neoclassical movement in design in architecture and interiors including furniture and objects during the eighteenth century left a great legacy. Designers ever since have found inspiration in the clarity, simplicity and spaciousness of its forms.
The whole neoclassical identification with the worlds of Ancient Greece and Rome had as much to do with a perception of early democracy as it did with antique rules on architecture and design.
The movement grew gradually, spreading outwards through France and the rest of Europe, as well as on to Russia and America over a period of about 100 years.
It embraced many arts disciplines and was seen from St. Petersburg to London and from Virginia to Versailles.
The renowned Frick Collection of New York through to February 19, 2017, is presenting an exhibition of works by Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court.
An eighteenth century master chaser-gilder who created opulent objets d’art, aligned with the neoclassical movement, Pierre Gouthière 1732–1813) became one of the age of enlightenment’s most skilled and admired master craftsmen.
The Frick are focussing attention on his skills and abilities, which he brought to a pinnacle of perfection in the age of enlightenment.
Gouthière was able to use specialized tools to create patterns and textures on the surface of objects before he applied gold leaf, giving them a glittering presence one that captivated onlookers and reflected candlelight brilliantly.
Some of the wealthiest and most important figures of pre-revolutionary France, including King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Louis XV’s mistress Madame Du Barry, and the Duke of Aumont all admired Gouthière’s works.
As in the rest of Europe and England the harmony and proportion in all branches of the arts gradually came to be considered essential and very relative to man’s well being.
This specialised project for The Frick Collection brings together twenty-one of Gouthiere’s finest masterpieces, which have been lent from both public and private collections across Europe and the United States to go alongside the masterpiece it already owns, which inspired the exhibition.
A selection of preparatory drawings for objects will be part of the display alongside the objects themselves. They include firedogs, wall lights, doorknobs, mounts for rare Chinese porcelain and precious hard stone vases, alongside select examples of fine furniture for which Pierre Gouthière provided superbly detailed and highly sophisticated decoration.
The creation of fine furniture has always been dependent during its evolution, upon its requirements for social gatherings and entertainment. Its design reflects changing conditions, new modes of life and ways of thinking, as well as function and use.
A superb side table after a design by François-Joseph Bélanger and Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin, 1781 has a glorious Bleu turquin marble top and was made for Louise-Jeanne de Durfort, Duchess of Mazarin for the gallery-salon of her residence Quai Malaquais in Paris (now the site of the École des Beaux-Arts).
Considered one of Gouthière’s masterpieces, the exquisitely carved mask in gilt bronze at the centre of the frame in the neoclassical taste is stunningly beautiful.
Gouthière also made a pair of large wall lights for the Duchess, the undersides of its decorative flowers burnished so they would sparkle with reflected light.
Louis-Marie-Augustin Duke of Aumont, who directed an administrative body of the king’s household, employed several artists from the Menus-Plaisirs du Roi that looked to the ‘lesser pleasures of the King’, attending to every detail of design and ordering of events and ceremonies.
Housed in his sumptuous residence on Place Louis XV in Paris, now the Hôtel Crillon, Place de la Concorde, the techniques Gouthiere embraced helped him to transform decorative elements into sculptures in their own right.
His collection kept in his personal cabinet of curiosities was renowned among fellow connoisseurs for its exquisite antique marbles, mounted porphyry, Asian porcelain, and gilt-bronze objects.
On one pair of Chinese vases originally used as garden seats, Gouthière created for the Duke, he made mounts that fitted securely on the vases without piercing the fragile ceramics showcased his virtuosity and protected it from damage
An educational video that will showcase the recreation of one of Gouthière’s iconic pieces, will take viewers step by step through the traditional techniques he would have used.
Claude Nicolas Ledoux 1736-1806) a fashionable Louis XVI architect patronised by Du Barry, was one of the most daring and extreme exponents of neoclassical style in France. A knob for a French window after one of his designs shows the level of detail employed to enact perfection.
Inside Mme Du Barry’s pavilion services were placed at the most convenient points so the whole house could run as smoothly as possible.
It was the French genius for the design of this type of arrangement, based on practicality that was very much admired and copied throughout Europe and England.
Mme du Barry patronised the marchand-mercier Simon -Phillippe Poirier and Dominique Daguerre who supplied her with many exquisite objects, including four paintings commissioned from Fragonard in the rococo taste which she rejected.
They have always sparked debate and now in the Frick collection some sources say it was because the figures constituted a breach of etiquette and were too like Louis and Herself, constituting a breach of etiquette. Others say it could be perhaps attributed to her wish to fully embrace the new classical style,
Baron d’Oberkirch wrote in 1782 ‘deprive France, and especially its capital of luxury, and you kill the greatest part of its trade, I say more, you will have deprived it of much of its supremacy in Europe.
The skills of the craftsmen achieved during the reign of the Bourbon Kings of France showed inventiveness and originality, the best interiors in the eighteenth century neoclassical taste, achieved a splendid synthesis between fixed and movable decoration and furniture.
Although the interiors were on a grand scale their ideas would be taken forward and used by all those who wished to convey not only their admiration for their perfection and intellect, but also their own wealth and status to others.
Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court has been organized by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Frick Collection.
She commented that “… the beauty and perfection Pierre Gouthière achieved is worthy of special focus…illustrating for visitors the steps of his remarkable technique, now only preserved in the hands of a few craftsmen” said Vignon.
The exhibition will travel to Paris after New York, where a version of the show will be on display at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, March 15 through June 25, 2017.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
The Frick Collection New York City
November 16, 2016, through February 19, 2017
Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court
Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris
March 15, 2017 through June 25, 2017
The Michel David-Weill Foundation; the Selz Foundation; and two anonymous donors one in memory of Melvin R. Seiden support this exhibition; with additional contributions from Alfredo Reyes of Röbbig Munich and Edward Lee Cave